Here you have the immovable object vs the unstoppable force:
- The SF Giants, owners of one of the worst second-half’s in baseball (history)…the worst team left in the tournament…a team with a variety of questions almost everywhere outside of the starting rotation.
- The Cubs roll in with the best record, best season, most momentum…a team that has almost no holes and small, nearly imperceptible weaknesses.
- On the other hand, the Giants don’t lose in the playoffs, have this weird even-year voodoo going on, and are facing the “cursed” Cubbies.
- The Giants, to my knowledge, have never been favored to win a postseason series during this run. They were never supposed to beat the 2010 Phillies, they couldn’t beat Cliff Lee and the Rangers; the 2012 Cardinals and Tigers were too talented to go down to Barry Zito and Co., and in 2014, the Royals were a runaway trail until they got Bumgarnered in the World Series. In many ways this would be the ultimate crowning achievement of the perpetual underdog Giants: taking down the Cubs.
- Have you noticed how good the Cubs are?
Here’s a good summary of the two teams and their path to this moment.
One thing I would add to this: I admire the heck out of Joe Maddon. He’s a leader and his baseball strategies are inspired. But he’s never won anything. And he can get cute. Bochy has made some interesting moves over the years (including game 1’s lineup), but his moves always seem more informed by hunches and trying to win, as opposed to impressing himself. Joe Maddon is both a strength and potential weakness.
So how do the Giants do this? How do they get by a team that has great starting pitching, a stacked, versatile lineup, a very flexible bench, amazing defense, and strong bullpen headed by the best closer in baseball?
A couple of general thoughts:
- The Cub’s pitching is good, but it is not as good as everyone thinks. Or at least, this is my opinion. Outside of Jake Arrieta, this is not a rotation that throws all that hard, or is particularly nasty. They kind of remind me of the 1993 Giants. They throw strikes and are confident in their great defense and that the lineup will score runs. Nothing against that strategy, but in the post-season, in a short series, against a lineup that is good at putting the ball in play, they’ll wish they could put more guys away via the strikeout.
- The Giants played the Cubs extremely well. Early in the season the Giants took 2 of 3 in San Francisco, including a game where they knocked John Lester (games 1 starter) around a bit. Then, we all remember the 4 games of horror in Chicago before Labor Day. All 4 games were 1-run games, and if the bullpen handles itself, the Giants take 3 of those 4 games. Head to head these teams are actually closely matched.
- The Giants have more holes and more question marks, no one is arguing that, but they have a manager who is a genius at masking his team’s weaknesses in short series. Again, I like Joe Maddon, but Bochy gives the Giants a huge edge.
- Finally, some will argue that the Giants need to get the lead and avoid facing Aroldis Chapman. I would also recommend this course of action. However, the Giants are due a ninth inning comeback. The fact that they had exactly zero during the regular season screams that its’ going to happen at some point in this series. Further, the Giants saw Chapman as a Yankee and a Cub this year, and are familiar with him from his time in Cincinnati. They came very close to scoring off him each time they faced him this season. I know close only counts in horseshoes and hand grenades but it feels like they will get to him in this series.
A couple specific thoughts:
- Game 1 is always important, but I think in this series and in this context it is EXTREMELY imperative the Giants win tonight. A dominant performance by Johnny Cueto, a couple big hits by the lineup, and a save for Sergio Romo accomplishes three things: first, the all important win (duh); second, it further establishes confidence in the minds of the Giants…given their second half wobbles, it will serve them well to get back to back wins to start off the post-season; and third, it will introduce doubt into the Cubs, making game 2 a must win situation already (don’t want to be down 2-0 facing Bum).
- Game 2 will be a house money situation for the G-men. My sense is the Cubs will figure out how to get this done, and even things up heading back to the West Coast.
- Game 3 features the respective Aces of these teams. The Giants won this matchup a little over a month ago, and I think the same happens here, probably a 2-1 Giants win.
- Game 4 then become a must win for both teams. If the Cubs pull it out and go back to Chicago, I can see them emerging victorious. The Giants need to avoid that plane ride at all costs. I’ve noticed several national writers dismiss Matt Moore as a league average starter, and sure, his numbers support that diagnoses, but Matt Moore represents a much different “league average” than say, Kirk Reuter. His overall numbers are there, but this is a guy who has nasty stuff and who can be nearly perfect when he’s on. My sense here is the Giants offense busts out a bit against John Lackey, and Matt Moore settles in to get the job done. Giants in 4.
I wrote before that all I wanted was for this team to have an opportunity in a series, and they get it. Can the rotation carry this team to an incredible, unexpected victory? My sense is yes, but as the old cliché goes: This is why they play the games.
- Key Hitters: there are a lot as it looks like Bochy is going to rely on platoons at 3B, 2B, and CF. One of those 6 guys needs to contribute significantly. I like Gorkys Hernandez to be the guy who gets a huge hit at some point. I also think it’s Brandon Belt time. He’ll face 3 right handers (another overall Giant’s advantage) after Lester tonight, and if he can get hot, especially homer hot, life will be good for us all.
- Key Bullpen arm: Romo is obviously hugely important, but the other guy who will need to be big is Will Smith. I was a little surprised Steven Okert got left of the roster for this series, leaving the Giants with 2 lefties to get Anthony Rizzo/Jayson Heyward out. Smith will have to dominate those guys and get a few righties out as well.
- Key stat: The stat I am watching in this series is innings pitched by the Giants starters. There’s a very good chance the Giants could head into game 2 without having yet dipped into the bullpen. Bochy is never afraid to use his ‘pen in the postseason, but I think this year will look more like the 2005 White Sox in that the Giants recipe for success may be 7-8 innings from the starters and then 3-5 outs from Smith and Romo. If the Giants get 30 innings from their starters in games 1-4, they will win this thing in SF.
Here we go!